Sunday, August 7, 2011

Playing catch up

I was trying to think of a clever title for this post, but realized it has been awhile since my last post, therefore I am just going to spill out all of my latest thoughts and memories without any type of cohesion. No themed post equals no clever title. My blogging best friend, Zack, once told me that when you have a lot of random things to blog about, a list format makes it easier. So  here I am, heeding his advice.

1. Ramadan- began last week, which has given me the opportunity to learn more about the Muslim religion. I work with a girl who is Muslim, and a few of the girls at the school are as well, so they are fasting during the days. At school I feel like we are always eating, so whenever I see the Muslim girls skip the meal line and head toward the library, I am honestly impressed with their discipline. I get very cranky when I am hungry, and I am a young adult, I can't even imagine how I would be as a fasting pre-teen. Also earlier this week I went with the group of Aggies to a predominately Muslim part of the city, where they had had an outdoor festival set up where Muslims could come and break their fast with their family and friends once the sun set. Pretty interesting.

2. Chinese Halloween- also began last week. I don't think that is the technically name for it, but that is basically what I got from the talk my host dad and I had about it. Basically, the Chinese believe that the gates of Hell have been opened up and people who are currently living must burn incense, candles and paper as a means of reaching them. I am not sure why they want to be reached,all I know is that these gates, according to the Chinese are open. Last weekend I was walking to Thomson Plaza(a mall near home) and I saw all of these candles burning next to the grass, and then all of this shredded paper behind the flames. My immediate thought was,"someone needs to extinguish that business before we get ourselves a forest fire". Singapore is a HOT county, those uncontrolled flames could not have been safe. Later that night I was driving with my host family and I asked them about the candles I saw, and the dad informed me of the Chinese practice. This event also lasts 40 days, just like Ramadan, but there is no connection between the two.

3. National Day- is on August 9th, which is the day when Singapore became its own country. This year marks Singapore's 46 birthday, so it s a pretty young country. Singapore was under British control since the 1800's, which explains the British English. Once release from Britain's control they were part of Malaysia for two years, until they became their own nation. I will probably do a post about National Day, so I won't go into too much detail, but this country is SO patriotic, even more so than the U.S. I know that is a bold statement, but there is National Day stuff EVERYWHERE. Some cars have even wrapped their side mirrors with images of their flag.

4. Learning to Rumba-This weekend my co workers took me out to Serangoon Country Club to have "farewell" dinner for me. Everyone at the center came, even Auntie Ivey, who is the cook! We had a great meal and then we went up to the lounge/bar area. Selena, who I blogged about previously is 52 and defintitely a big presence in the Singapore social scene. She is a member at the country club which explains how we were able to get in. Up at the lounge there were all of these people in their 40's and 50's dancing the cha-cha,rumba, polka and so forth. They had a Chinese band up on stage singing Chinese songs mixed in with a few American "oldies". It was one of the funniest experiences, I felt so out of place. Selena dragged me to the dance floor and attempted to teach me how to rumba, I was not too good. We did do the twist to the "Happy Days" theme song, and I was pretty good at that redundant motion. The band did randomly played "In my Life", which is my favorite Beatles song, so I would say overall it was a successful evening.

5. Goodbyes- I have less than a week left in Singapore, time flies. Today I realized that I am going to miss it here, it is not so much the country I will miss, but the people in it. I get really sad when I think about saying goodbye to the girls at the school. I have grown rather attached to them, and they keep asking me if I will come back an visit them, and it is a strange feeling knowing that I won't see them again. I have already exchanged contact information with a lot of them, in fact, some of the girls gave me their address so I can invite them to my future wedding(HA). Mei Mei, one of my favorites, lives at the home behind the school. She wrote me one of the sweetest notes on Friday. I walked over to the school to meet up with one of the other teachers so we could go to the country club and I ran into Mei Mei. She ran up to me and asked me if I was going to keep the note she wrote me forever, I nodded and told her I would. I am not ready to say goodbye to these girls! I only have 3 more days of work, seeing as though we get National Day off, and I will be leaving for Malaysia Friday morning. 

Sorry for such the random assortment today, I plan on posting a lot this next week, so keep checking back!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sister act

This post has very little to do with Singapore, but  it has a lot to do with someone I love dearly. At work there are these two sisters, Laressa and Anastasia. Laressa is the big sister and Anastasia is obviously the little sister. They fight all of the time. The other day  it was "tea time" and I told the two sisters as well as another girl, Ling Jie to go "queue" up for tea. Laressa obeyed, but the other two girls did not. Laressa kept coming back into the library where they were reading to urge her sister to come for tea,but Anastasia didn't budge.  Long story short, Anastasia and Ling Jie got a big scolding(they love to use that word here) for not obeying my instruction. After I scolded them, I found Laressa upset because she hates that her little sister is so easily influenced by Ling Jie(who is a huge troublemaker). She was very upset that her sister got in trouble ,but also mad at her for not obeying the rules. This reminded me so much of my sister and I. I told Laressa that I am also a big sister, and I often time find myself mad at my sister, Lesley, for not doing what I think she should do. I also told  Laressa that I think by nature big sisters want what is best for the little sister, and we get upset when they don't make the choices we  think they should make,especially when it ends badly for them. I told Laressa that she can only continue to be an example to her sister, because in the end, big sister is not always going to be there to wield instructions. I struggle with trying to play the "mom" role when it comes to my sister, and I often times I forget that we are indeed different people, and what works for me does not always, and should not always, work for her as well. This week when looking at my calendar it hit me that it is already August. August means school starts again, and as I began thinking about the upcoming year at Texas A&M, I realized that my little sister will be in College Station with me. She plans on going to Blinn, which I had known about, but it didn't strike me that we would be living about 5 minutes from each other until recently. I am so excited to have her in College Station, I look forward to this new stage in our relationship, and I think sharing a town, rather than a house, will be much easier for us! Now that she is a college girl now, I know that I will need to further reduce motherly instincts, but I can't promise to give up my big sister advice all together!

I love you Lesley, and I can't wait to be reunited soon!

My sister and  I on my 20th birthday

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A few of my favorite things

My passport has been sitting on my desk since I arrived, and it is now collecting dust, literally there are dust particles on it. I think that means I have been in this country for awhile. My time in Singapore has been a lot of fun. Although Dorothy spoke the truth when she said; "there is no place like home", I have grown to become rather fond of certain aspects of Singaporean culture. I know I complained a lot about the food in Singapore in some of my first posts, but I am happy to say that Singapore has redeemed itself (sort of). I feel like I owe it to the country to rave about some of the food here that I actually have come to...wait for! Plus, I think my best friend Zack, would get great pleasure knowing that I dedicated a whole post to food.

1. Bubble Tea. This stuff is SO good, and you can find it just about everywhere. They have tons of different flavors, but I prefer the ones that are creamier. They serve the tea with "pearls" inside, which is where beverage gets its name. I have no idea what the pearls are, but I like them. They are gummy, and sometimes they are filled with some random substance, so when you bite down the bubble bursts.

2. Pastries. When I think of pastries I think of Europe, more specifically France, not some tiny country in South East Asia. However, Singapore has a severe sweet tooth. They have tons of bakeries all over this place, filled with croissants, muffins, cupcakes, tarts, and the list continues. All of the stores have their goodies on display and everything looks to die for! Green tea muffins are my current "go to". 

3. Dragon Fruit. Singapore has a wide variety of fruit, it is a very tropical place, so obviously the fruit here is very different than the standard apples and oranges in America. The dragon fruit is my favorite of the new fruit that I have tried while abroad. I don't really know how to explain the taste without using vague words like "refreshing" and "juicy", so just take my word for it.

4. Homemade Iced Lemon Tea. For those of you that know me pretty well, it is a common fact that I am addicted to diet drinks, specifically Diet Dr Pepper and Diet Coke. They are my drink of choice, and I choose to drink them all of the time. There is no Diet Dr Pepper in Singapore, and Coke Light(Diet Coke) is expensive, therefore I am learning to love other drinks. Iced lemon tea tastes just like it sounds, and honestly I feel better about guzzling that stuff than my artificially flavored diet drinks. I may even try to cut back on my diet sodas once I get back, but that's still up in the air.

5. Gelato. I was a big fan of gelato before coming to Singapore, but for some reason I think it's better over here. They seem to have a wider variety and I am always hot here, so maybe the fact that it helps cool me down has something to do with it. Speaking of ice cream, I tried corn, and yam flavored ice cream the other day with my host family, it was not that bad, it was no gelato though.

You may have notice that the foods I mentioned were all sweet foods, mainly because I am still not a fan of the "real" food, I have about had it with rice and noodles, and if another person asks me if I want to add "chili" to my meal I might punch them. Just kidding about the punching, but it's getting a bit old...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hooked on phonics

At work for the past week or so I have been assigned to help a girl named Cindy during "study time". Cindy lives in the home for girls behind the school and is supposed to be in the 6th grade. However, due to unfortunate circumstances she was in and out of school for the duration of her elementary education, and was actually living on the streets of Singapore right before she came to live at the home. This being said, she is working out of a 1st grade workbook. Her work consists of filling in the missing words of very basic sentences. Everyday when I would check her work all of the answers would be wrong, every single one of them. I thought she was going through the assigned pages and marking whatever answer she felt like in order to finish her work so she could go play outside sooner. I was getting on to her late last week about rushing through the work and decided to make her read the sentences out loud so we could fix her mistakes together. Once she started reading it all made sense, she can't read. If the words were not "and", "the" or "she", she would stare at the page blankly, then look up at me, ashamed, and claim "she didn't know". My heart ached for her. She is almost 12 years old, and literally cannot do 1st grade work. Since I learned of her inability to read I have been trying to teach her, however it is much easier said then done. I don't even remember learning to read, I feel like I have always been able to do it. The words just sound "right" to me, but that logic does not work when you are teaching someone how to read. Today we came across the word "food", and I was fully expecting her to know it, however she shrugged her shoulders and looked up at me for help. I thought to myself that this was one of the most common words we use, and even though she is not reading books she should have at least picked up the meaning of this word in the cafeteria or something, right?  I am literally starting from scratch with this girl, and am so under qualified for this role. Sitting there with her today, I had another one of my "wow I am so lucky moments", for I have been reading since I was a little girl, in fact, my mom was reading to me before I could even talk. Today, I am thankful for the little things, like the fact that my parents were able to provide me with a bookshelf full of books. I have always loved reading, and I am sad that Cindy might not ever get to experience what it feels like to be caught up in a "page turner". More than that though, being able to read is essential to life, from following a map, to filling out a job application, my hope for her is that she is able to overcome this obstacle before it truly cripples her. I only have about two weeks left here, but I intend to use that time to help her reading skills in whatever way I can.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Another Singaporean weekend

I feel like I have been here forever. Another weekend as come and gone, and I can't believe tomorrow starts another work week. Sometimes I think my time here is flying, and then there are times when I feel like I will be here forever. I am trying to get the most I can out of this trip, which means I had another eventful weekend. On Saturday I went to Sentosa Island with the other Aggies. They call Sentosa "Asia's favorite playground", and it was pretty much exactly that. I was expecting a Six Flags-ish type of set up, but it was much more spread out and you had to take various shuttles to get around the island. We all really wanted to zip line, so that is what we did first. By nature I am a worrier, I knew I needed to commit to the group that I was for sure in to zip line, so they could keep me accountable, otherwise I knew I would bail once I saw how high up we were. Turns out, I was actually in the first group to go, and it was a blast. It seems to be a blur, but I definitely remember being up in the air and thinking how lucky I was to be soaring over Singaporean rain forests and beaches. Like everything in Singapore, Sentosa was very expensive, so every attraction was an additional cost. I decided that my wallet could only afford the zipline and I called it a day. While I was in a gift shop browsing, I came across a magnet about Singapore that was "Survivor" themed, and it said "Outshop, Outeat and Outplay", I laughed to myself because that silly theme is so overused, but also because that is so true of this country. I am growing weary of all the shopping and eating, which is something I never thought I would say. On Sunday I went to church with my host family again which is always so refreshing. After church, Dawn and I went to the Asian Civilizations Museum. There are a handful of museums I want to visit before I leave, and this was one of them. Museum hopping is seriously one of the only activities I feel like I have left to do that has nothing to do with shopping and eating. (Can you tell I am a little bitter about all of the malls and constant consumption of rice?) The museum had exhibits about the the different Asian cultures and featured a Terra Cotta warrior display as well. The history buff in me ate it all up, and it was nice to be in the "air con" for such a long period of time. After the museum Dawn and I went and got some bubble tea, and then made our way back home. Dawn's boyfriend came over for dinner, so we just hung out with him and the rest of the family until it was time to eat. We might watch a "Rom Com" later, but as for now I am just enjoying the last little bit of my weekend .
About to zipline!   
Taken from the air. 

A chopsticks tutorial at the museum.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Asia 101 cont.

Eeek, I am have not updated my blog in awhile! The internet was down at my host family's house for awhile, and this week was pretty low key, which explains my lack of posts. I have been in Asia for over two weeks now, and am learning more and more, I'll share:

1. Toilet paper is considered a luxury. Thankfully, my host family believes in using it, but the other Aggies on the trip cannot say the same thing. In many public bathrooms you will find a hose instead of toilet paper...uncomfortable.

2. Instead of saying "text message", they refer to it as "SMS".

3.The moon is SO much brighter here than it is in the U.S. At night you can't see stars, but the sky still has faint tint of blue to it and the clouds are still visible. In my attic there are no curtains for the windows, so the moon literally wakes me up at night because it is shining so brightly.

4. I have decided that in Singapore you can spend your time doing one of 2 things; shopping or eating. No matter where my destination may be, I somehow always end up inside a mall, they are seriously everywhere.

5. Jaywalking is a form of survival here-everyone does it.

6. Air conditioning is called "air con", and it is also a luxury. My family does not use it, but thankfully they have a unit in the attic and allow me to turn it on at night. I am not sure if I could have made it without "air con" at night.

7.Singaporean education is much more intense than American education. Granted, I went to a public school,so I am sure I didn't a very rigorous side of American schooling, but either way, the kids here are learning a lot at a young age. Some of the math problems that the 4th graders give me to work out I have trouble solving (Sorry, Dad). 

8. Singapore uses the British English language, this being said, the words "queue and alight" threw me off at first. At school, I would hear the other teachers asking the girls to "queue up" and I had no idea what they were referring to, so I asked. Turns out, it means to form a line, or to line up. The other day I was looking up directions and the site I was using told me to "alight" at certain stops. I had no idea what it meant to alight, so again, I asked. Alight means to get off at a stop.  Singapore is expanding my vocabulary!

9. They don't use clothes dryers here, and some families don't even own a washing machine. Thankfully, my host family has a washing machine, however they do hang their clothes on sticks of bamboo to dry.

10. Singaporean's know a lot about the United States. The girls I work with can name different U.S presidents and they asked me how I spent my July 4th holiday. This makes me feel very ignorant because I can tell you a few prominent international leaders, but not many, and I definitely don't know any holidays that other nations celebrate outside of the few popular ones(i.e Christmas). Oops.

Last night I went to a mall and ate dinner(surprise, surprise) with one of my co-workers, Wanqui. It was a quiet, but fun Friday night. Today I am going with the other Aggies to Sentosa Island, which is an outdoor adventure land basically with zip-lining, beaches and Universal Studios. I am looking forward to a day in the sun!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fine dining

As I have mentioned before, I work with some great people. On Sunday one of my co-workers Pearl, took me sightseeing around Singapore, we had a lovely day and even managed to stop at McDonald's for ice cream sundaes. Later that evening Pearl and I traveled to Selena's house for what I thought was just a simple dinner. Selena volunteers at the school I work for and was one of the ladies who took me out on Friday night. She has mentioned to me before that she is a "banana", meaning she has yellow skin on the outside, but white skin underneath-those words came straight from her mouth! This being said, she told me to get ready for a Western style meal prepared by her husband. Selena lives in a very upscale area and has a gigantic house-I was pretty impressed. Walking into the house we were greeted by a maid, and I quickly realized this was not a casual Sunday dinner. Lulu, another one of my co-workers arrived with her husband soon after we got there. The whole "having a maid wait on me thing", was very awkward, and honestly I didn't like it too much. Selena asked the maid to make sure that I had a full glass of champagne and a plate full of appetizers(Alaskan salmon and bruchetta) at all times. For the main course we had risotto, roasted chicken, lamb, steak and salad, I gorged the entire time. Dessert was my favorite though, her husband fixed us waffles, topped with maple syrup, ice cream, raspberries, kiwis and caramelized bananas. There was also chocolate fondue and strawberries. This meal seriously made up for all of the bad ones I have had here. After dinner we sipped on espresso and I could not help but think that this night would make a great pilot episode for The Real House Wives of South East Asia. The ladies swapped stories about their children and husbands, I tried to keep up with the conversation, but obviously I don't have any experience in either category, so I sat back and took cues from the other ladies as to when I should laugh or nod my head in agreement. It is very different having a group of friends who are in their 30s,40s and 50s, such a change from the crowd I surround myself with while living in a college town. This night again reminded me how lucky I am to have found such caring and generous people while living in Singapore. 

This story has nothing to do with my fine dining experience, but I figured it would make some of you laugh:  So, Singaporean's eat a ton of fatty meat(i.e pork) and a ton of carbs(i.e rice and noodles). You cannot have a meal without one of those 3 foods being present. This being said, I am afraid of putting on a few pounds, so I searched YouTube for some aerobics videos(very questionable quality), and I have been working out in my Singaporean attic. Between the lack of air conditioning, and lack of space, I am pretty sure my morning routine is a rather funny sight.